By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The serious and the frivolous

Should newspapers report what’s important or what interests people? Good ones do both, attempting to strike a balance between the serious and the frivolous.

Last night, at a panel discussion at the Boston Public Library sponsored by the fledgling New England News Forum, I caught an interesting exchange between John Wilpers, the editor of the free commuter tabloid BostonNOW, and Ellen Hume, director of the Center on Media and Society at UMass Boston.

Among BostonNOW’s innovations is a daily webcast of its editorial meeting, and the ability of viewers to send text messages about what they’re watching. On one occasion, Wilpers said, he and his staff were discussing a government story, and a viewer wrote in, “I’m bored already, and you haven’t even written the story.” Wilpers said he decided on the spot to kill the story, and then proceeded to offer a few disparaging words about the notion of government stories in general.

When Hume next got a chance to speak, she responded, “Part of what you said, John, gave me a little bit of a creepy feeling. You’ve got to cover government. I don’t want to kill the government stories.”

Wilpers responded, “I would never kill a story just because a blogger or a viewer of the webcast didn’t like it. I’m not going to turn my newsroom over to whoever happens to be

Well, that’s a relief — even if Wilpers did seem to contradict what he’d said just a few moments earlier. Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to make government stories interesting. But the First Amendment wasn’t written into the Constitution to protect the right of newspaper publishers to cover Paris Hilton endlessly. That’s just a side effect.

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  1. Peter Porcupine

    It has been my experience that newspapers generally underestimate what people are interested in. Perhaps it feeds reporters/editors egos to play cognoscenti, but really, the man on the street is a hell of a lot brighter, and able to follow nuance and complexity, than the media generally credits.

  2. leftsezfred

    I just read on another site that ABC and CBS have not reported the Comey/Gonzales/Ashcroft hospital confrontation. These stories go together somehow, though I’m not just sure how yet. If newspapers or TV can’t tell a dramatic story like this I can’t imagine what they’re waiting for.

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